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Visible Woman #13, Dr Lise Lafferty, Senior Research Fellow / Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney, and Kirby Institute

Visible Woman #13, Dr Lise Lafferty, Senior Research Fellow / Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney, and Kirby Institute

Thursday, February 29, 2024

In our final Visible Women interview, we meet Dr Lise Lafferty, a Senior Research Fellow with a co-appointment across the Centre for Social Research in Health and the Surveillance Evaluation and Research Program, The Kirby Institute, UNSW Australia. 


Lise shares her aim to teach her children that balance and equality is possible, and why putting yourself forward — instead of waiting — could be the key to success.


Dr Lafferty, Scientia Professor Carla Treloar, and Sonia Maddock have been leading the Visible Women campaign over the past 12 months, and this is the final interview of the series. We thank you all for following along and sharing the achievements of so many talented female leaders.


Tell us a bit more about yourself and your work?

I am a social health researcher using qualitative methodologies to understand infectious disease transmission, and barriers and enablers to testing and treatment uptake among priority populations in key settings. My research interests include people who inject drugs (including those in prison and in the community), blood-borne viruses (particularly hepatitis C), sexual health, and Aboriginal health. 


What challenges have you overcome to get to where you are? How did you overcome them?

As a qualitative researcher working in medicine / public health, I have experienced a lot of challenges in establishing the credibility of my work and the value social research brings to the medical field.


As a woman working in this space, I have often found myself at 'the table' where men occupy the majority of the seats. I have been very fortunate to have amazing female mentors throughout my career, especially Scientia Professor Carla Treloar and Professor Rebecca Guy. Through the Franklin Women's Program, and my mentor within the program, Karen Walker, I learned how to 'self-sponsor' my own career growth rather than relying on others.


Importantly, I learned that it is OK to reach out to potential collaborators to discuss ideas and to put my hand up and note my availability for opportunities of interest; we don't need to sit on our hands waiting for people to tap us on the shoulder — we have the ability to take charge and forge our pathway as we see fit, rather than having it forged by those around us. 


What is your ultimate ambition and how do you plan to get there? 

We need more strong female role models in top positions — across all sectors, not just in academia. That’s why, as a mum to a five-year-old girl who is starting school next month, my ultimate ambition is to be a role model for her, and to my younger son who so greatly admires his big sister and the other girls and women in his life.


I want to teach my children that we can pursue our career dreams, and that balance is possible. 

I’m also a runner and have run ultra marathons and marathons. As a runner, I hope to teach my children that women can be independently strong in all facets of our lives, while still displaying empathy for those around us.

What three pieces of advice would you give to emerging female leaders?

  1. Believe in yourself. The current systems and institutions can be so male-oriented, often leaving women to doubt their place. Know that you’ve got this.
  2. If you see an opportunity, don’t be afraid to go for it.
  3. Acknowledge the smaller achievements along the way to bigger goals. It’s important to celebrate the individual steps, not just the overall distance.

Connect with Lise: